Scripture: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39 ESV
Observation: As he draws near to the end of his commissioning message to the Twelve, Jesus revisits the reality of persecution and informs his disciples that not all suffering comes from the presence of evil. Indeed, he clarifies his coming into the world to usher in his kingdom creates division and controversy. Even family members will be at odds over whether his Gospel is good or bad news. And as if he had not already set them on their heels with his radical expectations for fellowship with him, he raises the bar of discipleship to new heights. His followers must:
- love him above all other earthly relations—even closest family members;
- take up their cross of suffering and follow him; and
- be willing to lay down their life for his sake.
In practice, these three tenets of discipleship require the sacrifice of what we hold most dear to us: family, health, and longevity. But he offers a ray of hope: they will find real and lasting life as God intended. The Greek usage of life in this text is psychē, which refers to our “soul.” Thus, Jesus speaks to the disciples’ one eternal aspect of their earth-bound bodies: their spirits. He will later reiterate this critical element of discipleship (sacrifice of the temporal for the sake of the eternal) when he adds, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26 ESV)
Takeaway: D.A. Carson contends that Jesus is calling his disciples to fellowship in his suffering by volitionally laying down their lives, whether to the extreme of martyrdom or daily through disciplined self-denial. Over time, all of Christ’s apostles would first learn to die daily in their selfish ways to mature in obedience to God’s will, and most would eventually lay down their lives in conflict with a wayward world to find a completed life in Christ. In classical Greek, to “find” life means to “win or preserve” life. Thus, Jesus’ paradoxical teaching centers on preserving versus winning. There’s no room for self-preservation if we want to find the joy of our salvation in Christ.
Still, it is a crucible journey of following the One who embraced his crucifixion for us. And here lies another paradox of Christ’s command: suffering for the sake of another (following God’s lead) will bring joy. Consider the author of Hebrew’s account of the men and women of faith who anticipated the coming Messiah and thus suffered life and limb to ensure that future generations would grab hold of the promise yet fulfilled (chapter 11). He then challenges us to:
- shed our sins that easily weigh us down (die to self daily);
- run with endurance the race set before us (exercising patience in fulfilling our mission); and
- focus on Jesus: “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2).
So when we focus on Christ and develop a more mature understanding of the joy set before him (our salvation), we, too, will find joy in sacrificing our wants and desires for the benefit of others. Indeed, as Paul contends, when we fellowship in Jesus’s sufferings, we tap into his resurrection power (Philippians 3:10-11), strengthening our authentic life of joy in Christ.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who, for us sinners, endured his cross to bring us new life in him. And we are humbled in knowing that he joyfully sought our salvation at such an unfathomable cost. So would you please help us follow your Holy Spirit’s lead in learning to self-sacrifice for the benefit of others so that we might joyfully fellowship in your Son’s suffering?
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling